E-commerce has exploded since Amazon and eBay were founded in 1995. Today, e-commerce is part of everyday life. By 2023, retail e-commerce sales in the U.S. are projected to surpass US$735 billion. Even industries like food, healthcare and banking, which previously were dominated by offline transactions, now are embracing e-commerce for increased efficiency and cost reductions.
However, for smaller players it can be difficult to establish a thriving online presence that can attract consumers away from e-commerce giants. To make it even more challenging, customer expectations continue to rise in today’s “need it now” society.
When it comes to e-commerce, organizations must deliver an individualized, fast and accessible experience, or customers will move on to another brand. As a result, high-quality customer service and customer experience (CX) are important differentiators for all companies. In fact, more than 80 percent of businesses expect to compete mainly based on CX.
As e-commerce and technology rapidly evolve, customer demands can change quickly. To keep existing customers satisfied and attract new consumers, businesses must remain agile and have a forward-thinking strategy when it comes to customer service and CX. Following are four trends that are changing the e-commerce landscape and driving improvements in customer service delivery.
1. Greater Personalization
With the rise of e-commerce, consumers now expect individualized communication that includes their relevant history and personalized offers. All steps of the customer journey must be integrated across all relevant channels and tailored to individual customer needs to deliver a holistic and smooth customer experience.
To achieve this level of personalization, businesses have been leveraging the following modern technologies to efficiently and effectively meet customer expectations:
- Chatbots: Intelligent virtual assistants and chatbots are valuable tools for handling certain customer service tasks because they can be reached around-the-clock on a customer’s smartphone, offering speed and immediate access to information.
The technology leverages natural language understanding so bots can deliver high-quality responses to simple FAQs and process requests like initiating an appointment. Still, it is important to know when a customer service representative should jump in and handle more complicated questions to ensure customers receive the best advice.
- Live video support: A direct interaction with a consultant is still the preferred communication method for many consumers. Customer service representatives are utilizing live video chats to optimize personal contact in the service center and to enable a scalable, yet personal, interactive exchange with customers. This virtual face-to-face conversation facilitates highly customized assistance.
- Prescriptive and predictive analytics: For a brand to offer a truly personalized experience, it is crucial for the organization to anticipate trends and customer needs and respond to them. Prescriptive analytics examines historical data along with the current situation to determine the best product to offer each customer at the right moment on the appropriate channel.
For example, prescriptive analytics can help determine the next best action to offer a customer who was just browsing online, suggesting a personalized discount. Predictive analytics creates forecasts from grouped historical data, answering questions like, how likely is a particular customer to purchase a certain product?
By examining a customer’s core data, order history and click streams, brands can reach out to customers with offerings that address their personal buying interests and predict customer behavior.
- Automation: To attract and retain customers, businesses have to increase the value they provide. Artificial intelligence (AI) and analytics help to deliver a comprehensive customer experience with cross-channel customer service that is personalized, efficient and effective.
For example, curated shopping and subscription services combine the efficiency of automated e-commerce processes with personal advice, giving customers an individualized pre-selection of products. This added value has been turning into a competitive advantage for many brands. In 2017, 15 percent of online shoppers signed up for at least one subscription to receive products on a recurring basis.
While new technologies are a great opportunity to aid in personalization, do not forget to keep people at the heart of the customer service equation. It is important to balance technology and the human touch in customer engagement to deliver the optimal experience. Never underestimate the value of empathy, critical thinking and problem-solving skills to keep customers happy and deliver a truly personalized experience.
2. Diverse Product Search Channels
Regardless of which channel and method consumers use to search, it must be user-friendly. After all, one of the main reasons consumers abandon an online purchase is that they cannot find the product they are looking for quickly and easily enough. As e-commerce continues to impact consumer behavior, the following technologies have emerged as powerful search tools:
- Voice assistants: Now more than ever, customers are using Amazon’s Alexa, Google Assistant or Apple’s Siri to search for products. Voice assistants have grown in popularity for search because the input is fast and simplifies the display of search results. Rather than a long list of products, customers generally are provided with one answer. For businesses, this means content must be rigorously optimized to be helpful for customers.
- Videos: With the rise of YouTube, video has established itself as an integral part of the customer journey. Often, customers utilize video content to find out about products and their uses.
In fact, 70 percent of shoppers indicated they were open to learning about products on YouTube. It has become a powerful marketing channel to create awareness about products among new and existing customers. Given the rise of mobile video consumption, short promotional videos are most effective.
- Images: Instead of searching for product with a text input, it has become more common for consumers to upload an image in the search engine to find a visually similar product that can be placed directly in a customer’s shopping cart on some platforms.
Social media channels like Snapchat, Instagram and Pinterest have expanded the reach of image search. For example, Pinterest features “Shop the Look” for consumers to search for goods. As AI capabilities mature, image search will become more precise — and as result, more popular with customers.
- Augmented reality (AR): AR has emerged as a tool to help customers make purchase decisions. AR digitally transforms the user’s environment, enabling searches, selections and purchases that are best suited for that particular customer.
The technology can help bring the offline and online worlds closer together as well. For example, virtual furniture can be viewed in a real room, or makeup products can be tested virtually.
3. More Payment Options
Today, consumers have numerous channels and options at their disposal for purchase and payment. In 2018, 29 percent of online merchants accepted mobile wallets, up from 24 percent in 2015. As more purchase channels emerge, introducing new payment technology is critical to streamlining the process for customers and making it easier for customers to re-order purchases.
Increasingly, IoT-based devices have been accelerating and facilitating purchases, making it easier for customers to complete transactions. Smart shelves leverage Bluetooth signals to send notifications to consumers’ smartphones for a targeted, specific transmission of information about interesting offers in the area. Beacons, or digital transmitters, can trigger payment processes automatically when a customer leaves a store, or alerts when products need to be re-stocked.
Beyond search, voice assistants can facilitate purchases, with voice commands to authenticate payments. While the technology is available for use today, many people are afraid of error and are not using voice for shopping. However, as people become more familiar and build trust in voice assistants, their use will become more common.
4. Faster Delivery
Today, even items like groceries are being ordered online, and consumers expect even faster delivery times for online orders. Increasingly, online retailers have been offering next- or same-day delivery options. By 2023, 78 percent of logistics companies expect to provide same-day delivery, and 39 percent anticipate delivery within a two-hour window by 2028.
Businesses have begun prioritizing the last-mile to ensure goods are delivered at the right time to the right location. To achieve this level of shipping speed, businesses need technological support.
Innovations like machine learning, automation and drones will be adopted to make deliveries more efficient and customer-friendly. The “click and collect” model also has been growing in popularity. Associates increasingly fulfill online orders in store, which gives customers more flexibility and saves on shipping costs.
Many customer inquiries revolve around “where is my order?” If an order is delayed, customers frequently reach out to customer service for updates. Implementing greater visibility into the delivery process is essential to answering these questions and allows businesses to share proactive updates.
Providing transparency is crucial, like having photos of the package at the customer’s front door. Customers want to shop with brands they can trust to resolve problems and to make the delivery and return process easy.
As consumers increasingly head to e-commerce platforms to purchase products, brands must evaluate customer service strategies critically to create experiences that serve as differentiators that build customer loyalty.
To meet customer demands for personalization, organizations must stay on top of emerging technologies like chatbots, video support, prescriptive and predictive analytics, and automation to deliver customized interactions quickly.
When looking to stand out in online searches, brands must account for the rise of voice assistants, video, image search and AR to stay competitive.
With more channels popping up, staying on the cutting-edge of payment options will become more imperative.
Similarly, brands must examine innovations like machine learning, automation and drones to keep up with delivery expectations.
When embracing new technologies, companies must remember the importance of the human touch when it comes to creating positive customer interactions. While new innovations can transform processes and improve efficiency, the human skills customer service representatives bring to the table will remain a valuable asset.
By keeping a keen eye on the latest trends and innovations, companies can meet customer needs and anticipate what consumers will be looking for in the future, positioning their businesses for success in the evolving e-commerce landscape.